Fans of ABC Family’s addictive teen mystery, ‘Pretty Little Liars’ can expect things to head south for wealthy Spencer Hastings in coming weeks — but in real life things are getting better and better for the actress who brings Spencer to life, Troian Bellisario.
Series creator Marlene King has indicated that the storyline is heating up for the mysterious Ian (Ryan Merriman), who up and eloped with Spencer’s cruel older sister Melissa (Torrey DeVitto) in the series’ winter premiere — even though Ian had already kissed Spencer and interacted in an unfaithful kind of way with Alison, the murder victim at the heart of ‘Liars.’
“For someone who prides herself on being in control so much of her life, Spencer gets to be the person with the least amount of control, especially with what happens as the season continues,” Troian tells PopEater. “Really fun things happen to Spencer.”
Really fun things have been happening for ‘PLL,’ what with ratings doubling and a second season already ordered for the show, which has been described as a sort of “Desperate Housewives” for the younger set.
“The great thing is, each of the girls have something about them that you can relate to – Aria (Lucy Hale), Hanna (Ashley Benson), Emily (Shay Mitchell) and Spencer,” notes Troian.
She clearly favors her own role. “I cannot even tell you how much I love Spencer. She’s so close to my heart, personally,” says the 25-year-old beauty, whose father, Don, is the long-time industry powerhouse producer behind shows including ‘NCIS,’ ‘JAG,’ ‘Magnum P.I.’ and ‘Quantum Leap’ — and whose mother is actress Deborah Pratt.
“We have very kindred spirits in that we’re type A superachievers. We have the same kind of drive. She’s the same place I was at one point, trapped in the expectations of the community and her parents, their ideals of what perfect is supposed to be. She’s sort of so reined in – she needs to be shaken up.”
That country club worker Spencer has been making out with, Diego (Diego Boneta) certainly seems like a shaker upper.
How did Troian herself shake out of that place?
“A lot of failing,” she responds, “a lot of falling on my face. Truthfully, I didn’t get out of it until I got out of high school and went to college.”
Troian pushed herself hard while a student at L.A.’s tony Campbell Hall prep school, aiming to excel in all departments. “My whole life, I joined everything I could — every club, every sports team. I was really unhappy through a lot of it, there was just so much pressure,” she admits.
“The school was the sort of environment that, when they see that someone wants to be the best, they will absolutely push you. It wasn’t just getting into an Ivy League, it how many Ivy League schools accepted you. It was becoming valedictorian of the class.” Which she was.
“I was applying to schools I didn’t even know if I wanted to be in – except I ‘should’ want to be in them,” recalls Troian, who excelled in history, math and other subjects.
She wanted to pursue acting, but recalls being told, “‘Oh, you’re so smart, too smart to be an actress.’” She laughs slightly.
Having grown up in the Hollywood world, she says she felt like responding, “‘You have no idea how hard it is to be an actress.’
“I had an awareness of how tough it really is from my parents. To me, it’s never been, ‘You get to be a star!’ It’s been things like putting on a brave face when they ask you to reshoot a scene at the end of a hard day’s work.”
How did her parents feel about her acting aspirations?
“My parents were pretty supportive. I don’t know how much my dad wanted me to be an actress all my life, but he never denied me of it.” Indeed, Troian was able to get her feet wet doing guest roles on ‘Quantum Leap,’ ‘JAG,’ ‘NCIS’ and other Bellisario productions.
“I had the opportunities and I took them for the experience. I was always aware of the nepotism. I didn’t feel respect on the set,” she continues with a strikingly matter-of-fact candor. “I didn’t focus on what I was doing. I focused on, ‘These people think I’m only here for one reason, because of my dad.’ I didn’t like it.”
Things got better once she found a home at USC, studying theater. By then, she was firmly committed to her decision that “not only do I want to be an actress, I want to be one on my own and be good at it on my own.”
It wasn’t until her junior year that her father finally told her she had become the real thing.
“He came to see me in a play – he at that point had seen me in a couple of plays – and he took me to dinner afterward and told me how much he liked my performance. It was pretty cool.”
The play was The Crucible, and Spencer had the lead role of that 1690′s bad girl, Abigail, the scorned woman who touches off the Salem witch hunt with her twisted accusations. By that point, “I’d had to learn to let go of the need for his, or anyone’s approval. But I’m grateful to have it.”
As for her personal life, Troian is “absolutely looking forward to having my own family” one day — “but personally, I have a lot of things to work out before I get there,” she says with a smile. “Right now I’m in this blessed period of having a family that I choose to run with in this kind of pack of friends.”
She enjoys hanging out with her ‘PLL’ pack as well, she says, though their time together is pretty much limited to the set. “You know what, it’s that we work together Monday through Friday, sunup past sundown,” she notes, “and I think the girls want to be with their boyfriends and families when they finish work.”
So far, Troian has been rolling along with new-found fan attention just fine. “Everyone I’ve talked to has been really sweet, telling me they love the show. It’s so awesome.”
But she’s one TV starlet who is not going to allow the sweet taste of success to carry her away. “Everybody’s really been positive about the show, and I’m really grateful and want people to enjoy it. But I don’t know how much I’m really into celebrating. What you have to love is the work, not the success,” she explains.
“My dad told me that night after seeing me in The Crucible that I had done a great job, but the next day one of my favorite teachers told me I had ruined the play for her – that in so many ways I could have gone further. So it’s like, I can’t attach myself to a negative position, or a positive position. I just take them in.”